Capitals

Raiders fire OC, 3 other assistants

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Raiders fire OC, 3 other assistants

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) The first year of the new regime in Oakland ended in similar fashion to the previous nine disappointing seasons for the Raiders, with no playoff berth and changes on the coaching staff.

Coach Dennis Allen fired offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, special teams coordinator Steve Hoffman, offensive line coach Frank Pollack and linebackers coach Johnny Holland as he began overhauling a staff he put together after being hired less than a year ago.

Allen and first-year general manager Reggie McKenzie had a long-range view after taking over an organization that had been run for nearly a half-century by late owner Al Davis.

``I'm not in this for a one-year deal,'' Allen said. ``I'm in this long-term. I'm in this to build this thing the right way. And I'm excited about looking forward to the future and where this organization is going to go.''

But Allen felt some changes to his staff were necessarily after one season in which Oakland's win total dropped from eight to four, the offense regressed and the defense allowed the most points for the franchise since 1961.

``Obviously, I believe in continuity,'' he said. ``I think that's the way you're able to sustain success in this league is through continuity. But I also know that at some point we're looking for the results and we have to have the results. This is a win-now business no matter how much patience we're looking for.''

Allen said the four changes announced Monday are the only coaches he plans to get rid of this offseason. For a change, the head coach will be coming back.

The Raiders made six coaching changes the previous nine seasons, including firing Tom Cable after an 8-8 record in 2010 and Hue Jackson after an 8-8 mark in 2011.

Allen said he didn't want to look back at his decision last offseason to overhaul an offensive system that had been successful for two years with Hue Jackson calling the plays.

Knapp implemented a West Coast system with a zone blocking scheme instead of the downfield passing, power running scheme Jackson employed. While Carson Palmer adjusted to the change and became the second Raiders quarterback ever to throw for 4,000 yards in a season, big-play running back Darren McFadden reverted to his early career struggles when he played in a similar system.

After averaging more than 5 yards per carry in each of the past two seasons under Jackson, McFadden averaged just 3.3 yards per carry this season - the lowest ever for a Raiders back with at least 150 carries in a season.

Without an effective running game the Raiders scored more than four fewer points a game than a year ago - a major part of their drop from eight wins the past two seasons to just four this year.

``I believe the zone scheme running scheme is a productive running scheme,'' Allen said. ``Obviously, we didn't have the success that we needed to have and there were a lot of factors that contributed into that. I'm not tied to a specific system. I'm tied to trying to find out what our players can do really well and try to put them in those positions to give them a chance to have success. I'm looking for production and execution.''

Allen said he wants to find the right coordinator rather than pick a certain system. He said he would talk to senior offensive assistant Al Saunders, who was coordinator in 2011 under Jackson.

Allen came in talking about changing the culture of a team that had grown so used to losing in the latter years under Davis. One of the few bright spots came in the reduction of penalties after Oakland set an NFL record with 163 in 2011 under Jackson.

Oakland's 108 penalties were the fewest for the franchise since it had 107 in 2001 in the final season under coach Jon Gruden.

Allen didn't have as much success fixing the defense as the Raiders allowed 443 points and 27.7 points per game - the most for the team since its second season in 1961.

Middle linebacker Rolando McClain, the first-round pick in 2010, was suspended for two games for conduct detrimental to the team and then made inactive the past three games.

The Raiders had a revolving door at cornerback and got little production from their offseason acquisitions, releasing Ron Bartell and getting less than two games from Shawntae Spencer before a season-ending foot injury.

There figure to be plenty of personnel changes, especially on a defense where nine players who started games are potential unrestricted free agents.

While Oakland wants to bring back linebacker Philip Wheeler, others like Richard Seymour, Matt Giordano, Mike Mitchell and Matt Shaughnessy could have new homes next season as the Raiders try to shore up their roster.

``This is a players game,'' Allen said. ``Players make plays and the best teams are able at some point in time to hand the keys to the car over to the players and they're able to run the program the way it needs to be run. We're not at that point yet but we're developing that every day.''

NOTES: Allen said he expects Palmer to make a full recovery from cracked ribs and a bruised lung that sidelined him from the finale and should be ready to participate in minicamp next spring. ... Allen was pleased with Terrelle Pryor's play in the season finale when he threw two TD passes and ran for a third score. ``I thought he did a nice job in the red zone, and I think his athleticism brings an extra dimension that makes it difficult on defenses down there. So, yeah, I think his athleticism can help us in the red zone,'' Allen said.

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Do the Caps have the goaltending to win the Stanley Cup?

Do the Caps have the goaltending to win the Stanley Cup?

The bye week and the all-star break are upon us meaning we will have to wait until Jan. 27 for the Capitals to take the ice again for a game. With the season over halfway done and the Feb. 24 trade deadline rapidly approaching, the focus of the season now shifts towards the playoffs.

Washington has certainly done enough at this point to show they are a playoff team, but just how good are they? Are they a true contender or are they destined for an early exit?

Over the next few days, I will examine the team to answer if it is good enough on offense, defense and in net to win a Cup and, if not, what they must do to improve by April.

See Monday's breakdown of the team's offense here.
See Tuesday's breakdown of the team's defense here.

Today’s question: Do the Caps have the defense to win the Stanley Cup?

Team stat
.916 team save percentage (20th in the NHL)

Player stats
Braden Holtby 18-9-4 (18 wins tied for 8th), .897 save percentage (48th among goalies with 15 or more games played), 3.09 GAA (40th)
Ilya Samsonov 15-2-1 (15 wins tied for 18th), .927 save percentage (5th among goalies with at least 15 GP), 2.06 GAA (1st)

It's been a tough year for Holtby. After a difficult start to the season, he seemed to reset and rebound in November. Then December rolled around and he struggled again. His save percentage has now dipped below .900 for the season. He still has gotten a majority of the starts and has put together a decent record on the season, but this does not look like vintage Holtby.

There is no one aspect of his game that you can point to and say, there it is, that's why he is struggling. The fact is that he is playing in front of a defense that has been shaky in terms of turnovers and he has not been able to bail them out with big saves like he has in years past. Deflections and screens seem to be affecting him more than they once did. Whether this is evidence of decline for the 30-year-old netminder of if this is just a bad year is a discussion for another day, but right now his play has not been up to par and he would be the first to admit that.

With Holtby in a contract year, Samsonov was likely brought up a year earlier than perhaps the team would have wanted him to be. The move, however, has paid off as Samsonov has been absolutely brilliant. There are flashes of inexperience to his game, particularly overcommitment when he slides from side to side, but already he has already improved from the start of the season to now and he seems to be every bit as good as advertised when Washington selected him in the first round back in 2015.

When it comes to the playoffs, however, Samsonov is an unknown commodity. We would like to assume his regular-season game will simply translate into great postseason play, but it does not always work that way. Just ask Jose Theodore. The fact is that he is a rookie goalie with zero NHL playoff experience. You also have to consider that the most games he has played in a professional season is 37 which he did last year in Hershey.

With Holtby struggling and Samsonov excelling, there are many who would love Samsonov to take over as the No. 1. But when you have a young goalie who has never in his professional career taken on a full-time starting role, is in his rookie season in the NHL and has no playoff experience, it is easy to see how this can all get very overwhelming very quickly.

There is no question that the play of both Holtby and Samsonov dictates that Samsonov should be playing more, but that probably will not translate into as many starts as you may think after the all-star break as Todd Reirden tries to manage the minutes of the rookie netminder. So long as the team remains atop the standings, there is no pressure to force more games than you need from Samsonov. Having said that, I doubt very much that Holtby will get every start in the upcoming four games the team has against the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins. I would be surprised if Samsonov did not get at least two of those games and one at home.

The verdict: Yes, the goaltending should be good enough to win the Cup

I know, you just read an entire analytical article with the ultimate conclusion of "I think so," but goaltending is the hardest thing to predict in hockey. Sometimes goalies get hot and sometimes they don't.

If the playoffs were to start today, Samsonov would have to be the starter. There is no debate. The problem is we have no idea what kind of a playoff goalie he will be. That's what makes Holtby's role so important.

Holtby ranks 5th all-time in playoff save percentage with a .928 and it's not a small sample size (89 games). OK, but won't his poor season translate to a poor performance in the playoffs? Ask 2018 Holtby who was in the exact same situation, supplanted by Philipp Gtubauer as the starter. He came on in relief of Grubauer in just the second game and never looked back with a .922 save percentage and 16-7 record all the way to the Stanley Cup.

Holtby is a goalie who likes to play as often as possible. The playoffs are ideal for him because you play every other night. It suits his game well. What happened in 2018 is no guarantee of success in 2020, but I don't know why anyone would think the Caps are better off getting a different back up than going with the guy who is statistically one of the best playoff goalies ever and who has won a Stanley Cup going into the postseason as a No. 2.

If Samsonov is anything close to what he has been in the regular season, the Caps are in good shape in net. If not, there is every reason to be confident in Holtby as the backup. Samsonov/Holtby as a tandem is about as good a tandem as there will be in the playoffs and there's no reason to change it.

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With Gerardo Parra's World Series tattoo, he'll carry 'Baby Shark' on forever

With Gerardo Parra's World Series tattoo, he'll carry 'Baby Shark' on forever

The Washington Nationals 2019 World Series title run is something Gerardo Parra will never forget.

Earlier this month, Parra covered his left forearm with a tattoo to commemorate the Nationals' championship, but the fan-favorite but his own little twist on it.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Washington, Parra explained the meaning behind the tattoo and the motives behind the design.

"Like I said before, if we won a World Series championship, I wanted to do special a tattoo [to have] for the rest of my life," Parra said. "It's special for me. I had like one month to figure out how the tattoo I wanted to do. We did the trophy, the baby shark inside the trophy, World Series champs."

You can listen to the full interview in the Nationals Talk podcast below.

The design of the tattoo took several weeks of thought, but the actual process of inking it to Parra's skin was quite the process as well.

"It took like 11 hours to do that," Parra said. "But I'm so happy and so glad that everybody likes it, mostly because I love it and I got it for the rest of my life."

Although he was in the nation's capital for less than one full season, Parra left his mark in Washington. Following a rough start in 2019, Parra instilled a light and fun atmosphere in the Nationals' clubhouse upon his arrival. He made 'Baby Shark' his walk-up song in honor of his two-year-old daughter, and it became the Nationals' unofficial rally cry throughout the 2019 season.

Although the season is several weeks in the history books, Parra still plays the song in his home sometimes. As to why? It's just the feeling he gets when it comes on.

"I'm in my home and sometimes I put on the song because my baby wants to listen," Parra said. "My neighbor, he wants to dance to it."

Shortly after the MLB season ended, Parra was offered a deal from the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. Knowing his chances of playing in the MLB next season were slim, the 32-year-old signed a few days later for $2.5 million with a $3 million option for 2021. He still hopes to return to Washington for the team's home opener where he would receive his World Series ring, and has self-nominated himself to throw out the first pitch.

So, will 'Baby Shark' follow Parra to his next destination? 

"The guys are waiting for baby shark in Japan. I'll do my best," Parra said. "I want to bring it to Japan. I want to bring it to different cultures, different countries, different cities. We'll see what happens, but I think everything is fine, everything is good energy, and try to make it work there, too."

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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